Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

INTRODUCING FR. FREDDIE'S GOSPEL REFLECTIONS

for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)


Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12-23]
26 January 2020
Jesus Begins His Public Ministry and Calls His First Disciples
Readings: (1) Is 8:23-9:3 (2) 1 Cor 1:10-13.17
1.  Theme in brief
Our basic call and mission
2.  Focus Statement
Jesus calls us everyday to follow him, and entrusts us with a mission to gather people into a community of love; we need to respond to it with a willingness to make sacrifices for it.  
3.  Explanation of the text
According to today’s gospel text, Jesus inaugurates his public ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15), with the proclamation of the central theme of his preaching; that is, the Kingdom of Heaven or God (4:17). This Kingdom is nothing but the loving rule of God over human lives. The given text also tells us how Jesus calls his first disciples and entrusts them with a mission to “catch people,” that is, to gather or draw people into that Kingdom (4:18-19).
Matthew’s gospel puts the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry not in the elite region of Judea or the sanctified Jerusalem but in “Galilee of the Gentiles”. This region with a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles was despised by the respectable Jews in Judea as dull and backward. For them it was a land belonging to people who “sat in darkness” and in the “shadow of death” (4:16). Though the phrase “people who sat in darkness” in Isaiah’s prophecy originally meant Israelites who were under oppression and exile, echoing Jewish mentality in those days, Matthew applies it to the Gentile people in Galilean territory. For him, they are the people who “sat in darkness” and now have seen “a great light” (4:16) in the person and ministry of Jesus. Hence, indirectly Matthew echoes what John says in his gospel: Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12) and has come to dispel the darkness of the Gentile world. The very fact that Jesus begins his public ministry in this region points to the universality of his mission and his preferential option for the marginalized.
It is in Galilee that Jesus solemnly proclaims the central theme of his ministry – the Kingdom of ‘Heaven’ (that is, God). Since Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jews who found it offensive to utter God’s proper name, he substitutes it with ‘heaven.’ He says that God’s rule which is firmly established in heaven is now being extended among the humans in the person and ministry of Jesus; it has now come so near to them in and through Jesus. But, in order to personalize it, they must ‘repent’ (4:17). Or in order to experience God’s total love, one must allow oneself to be totally governed by God and his values. That involves making God and his love as the centre of one’s life, or reversing the direction of one’s life from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Repentance also implies a decision to stop walking far away from God’s ways (values) and to walk towards God and live by his standards. In other words, it means, allowing God to control or govern our life instead of “self”.
After announcing the main theme (also purpose) of his ministry, namely to establish God’s rule on earth, Jesus calls his first disciples to be his collaborators in this project. He calls them not only to collaborate but also to continue his mission to establish God’s rule or reign which is summarized thus in today’s gospel: teaching, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and healing from diseases (4:23). He calls two sets of brothers (first Simon Peter and Andrew, second James and John) to follow him, and entrusts them with a mission to gather people into God’s Kingdom or to establish it in every human heart (4:18-19). He calls them in the midst of ordinary life-situation and occupation, namely fishing. In a way he disrupts their normal routine and calls them for a different way of life. He tells them to give up their work of catching fish and begin ‘catching people,’ that is, drawing or gathering people into another net, the net of God’s Kingdom (4:19). In other words, their mission to fish for people implies creating new communities based on the values of God’s Kingdom.
How do the first disciples respond to Jesus’ call? Matthew’s double emphasis that both the pairs of brothers followed him “immediately” indicates their prompt response to Jesus’ summons or their decisive obedience to his call (4:20, 22). They respond by leaving their father Zebedee (implying family ties), nets and boat (implying possessions) and fishing activity (implying occupation). It is clear that following Jesus and doing his mission involves sacrificing of family ties, material possessions (or worldly attachments) and occupation.
4.    Application to life 
Jesus has come as a light to dispel darkness of sin and spiritual death. Like him, we are called to go out of our own ‘territory’ to shed light in regions of darkness and death. As followers of Jesus, we need to constantly examine ourselves and see whether our relationships and services are inclusive or exclusive; whether they are confined or limited only to our own community, only to one section or class of people. We are called to make a preferential choice to side with the underprivileged, the marginalized, the uneducated and the despised and all others who “sit in darkness” and are in “shadow of  (spiritual) death” (4:16). Today for us, the region of Galilee or Galileans could be likened to the  minorities (either religious, ethnic or racial), people of other religious faiths and traditions, people under the grip of anti-social elements and human rights violators, or those who advocate dehumanizing or life-threatening superstitions witchcraft. It is easy to work with like-minded people, or with those who belong to one’s own religion, ethnicity, gender, language and ideology. To go out of this circle requires a deliberate choice and a change of attitude.
The message of Jesus is a simple one: We must turn from our sins, and turn to God to bring his loving rule nearer to us. Contrary to God ruling over us, sin is self-rule and self-will run riot. When we allow sin and selfishness to take control of us, we are outside God’s Kingdom; when we allow God, his love and his will rule over us, we are in his Kingdom. To bring his rule in our hearts and experience his boundless love we must repent. Repentance in biblical sense does not mean merely an apology or saying “I am sorry,” but a change of one’s ways, direction, behavior, attitude and mind. If God has to completely rule over our lives or govern us we have to change our attitude or way of thinking that results in a change of life-style and a total submission to God’s love. This does not happen naturally or spontaneously, since as humans we are selfish by nature. For this, we need to open our hearts to Jesus and allow him to establish God’s loving rule over our lives and society. As his followers, we have to ask ourselves, “Actually, who or what is ruling over our minds, hearts, lives and families?” God or something (somebody) else? What needs to be changed in our mentality, attitudes and life style, if God has to be the only ruler? Unless we change, the Kingdom (i.e. God’s attributes of love, peace, justice) will not come near, but will be far away from us. What will be the result? Naturally, more fights, divisions, disunity, hatred, unrest and restlessness.
In today’s gospel text we observe a close connection between preaching, teaching and healing in Jesus' ministry (4:23).  It is clear that the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth involves not only preaching and teaching but also actions such as healing that brings wholeness to brokenhearted people and communities. Today, Jesus once again calls us to continue his mission of teaching even (at times even to the unreachable people), proclaiming his love to those who are hungry for love, and healing the wounded and broken hearts. He calls us daily in the midst of our usual work and busy life to sacrifice our energies and time to bring people into contact with his values of love, peace, justice, fellowship, etc, and build up communities based on these values.
Jesus calls us to draw people out of darkness to light, from selfishness to become sharers, from disharmony and division to unity in the community. As fishermen draw fish from the sea, we too are called to draw people out from the sea of sin and dehumanizing situations and gather them into the ‘net’ of a communion. We should not forget that we have a mission and responsibility to shed light in the midst of darkness of the world so that God’s love may triumph over forces of evil and death. We need to examine whether we are faithful to our mission to build up communities, or are busy only in building concrete structures and memorials. In the midst of a consumerist and materialistic society, if we are serious about following Christ daily, we have an obligation to renew the face of the earth with te enlightenment of the gospel .
To respond to his call, at times we have to sacrifice our family ties, household work and possessions as Simon Peter and his companions did. Jesus did not promise any material rewards when he called them. He called them to an uncertain future and the meaning of this call would become clearer only with trials and errors, faults and failures. Left to themselves, naturally they would have preferred to remain at home with their families and the little security they enjoyed. By deciding to follow Jesus they took a risk and ventured into an unknown future.  Today, we observe that when it comes to attending novenas, devotions and liturgical services, at least in developing countries, a large number of Christ’s disciples attend in full number. But when it comes to sacrificing one’s time and resources for the good of the community or the mission of Christ, they follow a policy of “touch me not, for I have no time for that!” In my pastoral field I have observed some women (wives) vehemently opposing the election of their husbands for leadership roles in the Church or community for which they are not paid. They say, “For nothing, why should you face criticism and opposition?” Similarly, I have also observe some men (husbands) criticizing and objecting to their wives’ involvement in social activities or church services, because of their unwillingness to sacrifice the regular services of their wives at home.
Priests and religious in the Catholic Church leave their families and possessions for good to make themselves available to people’s service as “full timers”. But following the Lord and doing his mission is not their monopoly. The lay people are also called to follow the Lord by sacrificing their family ties, time and resources as the first disciples did, at least as “part timers” when there is a need or the occasion demands it. They should not forget that Second Vatican Council has clearly stated that they too have a vocation and mission to “fish for people” derived from their baptism itself; it is not given by the clergy as a concession. Even though so many years have passed after the Great Council, till today many lay people do not feel impelled to fulfill their mission, either due of lack of awareness and unwillingness to sacrifice their time for some free service, or due to the long-standing tradition among the clergy and religious heads who are used to manage the church affairs in a monopolistic and non-participatory way. Today, both the groups need to become aware of the wrong attitudes prevailing for long years, and pray as well as work for a more participatory Church and leadership visualized by Second Vatican Council and advocated by the Small (Basic) Christian Communities; thus shun the feudalistic model of one-man show.
5.  Response to God's Word
Is our service all inclusive? Do we enter into common ventures with people of other faiths and ideologies, or avoid contacts and common work with them? What are the attitudes, prejudices, evil tendencies and selfish behaviour that we need to change in order to experience God’s loving rule in our hearts? If God calls us to render a definite service to our community or the Church by assuming some leadership roles or involvement, are we generous enough to answer his call? Are we willing to sacrifice some of our time, energies, resources and knowledge or expertise for the good of the community or the underprivileged? Do we willingly make sacrifices ‘‘immediately’’ like the disciples, or do we delay, postpone or avoid any involvement in community services which demand sacrifices?
6.  A prayer
Jesus, you have come as a light to dispel darkness. Give us the courage and strength to shed your light to all those who “sit in darkness” and are in “shadow of death”. Today we open our hearts to you and allow you to establish God’s loving rule over our lives. We repent for the times we allowed other worldly forces to rule over us. Grant that we may be faithful to the mission of drawing people out from the sea of sin and dehumanizing situations and gather them into a communion. Fill us with a spirit of sacrifice so that we may be sometimes able to leave our family ties, household work and possessions to fulfill your mission. Amen.


Friday, 17 January 2020

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)


Second Sunday of Year A [Jn 1:29-34]
19 January 2020
Jesus is the Lamb of God
Readings: (1) Is 49:3.5-6 (2) 1 Cor 1:1-3
1.  Theme in brief
Conquering evil by sacrifice
2.  Focus Statement
We are called to continue the mission of Jesus, the Chosen Servant of God, who served humanity to the point of offering himself like a sacrificial lamb in order to conquer evil of the world.
3.  Explanation of the text
In today’s gospel text, we notice John (the Baptist) testifying to Jesus by proclaiming his identity and mission. He does this under four different titles or designations: 
(1) Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:29): This title refers to the paschal lamb slaughtered by the Jews during the feast of Passover in the temple of Jerusalem in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. But John attributes to this Passover (or Paschal) Lamb Jesus’ mission of taking away the sin of the world (1:29). Actually, as per Jewish faith, Passover lamb did not have such a power. This shows that John connects his idea of Jesus as Paschal Lamb with other texts of the OT, especially with the Suffering Servant of Yahweh who suffers “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” in atonement for our sins (Is 53:7). Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” by taking upon himself our sins or by wiping away our sins by his sacrificial death.
(2) Jesus is the Pre-existent One, that is, the one who was before the Baptist (1:30): Though John was physically born before Jesus, Jesus existed before him as he was the Word who was with God from the beginning (1:2). Though John knew Jesus as his relative (cousin), he did not know his divine origin and mission fully. It was revealed to him by the Father at the time of his baptism.
(3) Jesus is the Bearer of the Holy Spirit who descends on him like a dove (1:32): As foretold by the prophets (Is 11:2), the Spirit of the Lord descends on Jesus and rests on him or remains with him. This perpetual abiding of the Spirit makes Jesus the source of the Holy Spirit, who is like a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (4:14). Being possessed by the Spirit, Jesus is able to baptize people with the Holy Spirit, so that they too can be possessed by the same Spirit. The descent of the Spirit like a dove implies that he is empowered by the Spirit to purify the world from sin or evil and bring renewal, peace and reconciliation among people, just as the dove in Noah’s time signified this with a green olive leaf in its beak (Gen 8:11).
(4) Jesus is the Son of God: John confesses Jesus as the Son of God, or according to other manuscripts as the Chosen One of God (1:34). Thus, John indicates that the Son of God becomes the chosen Servant of God to bring justice to the nations as foretold by prophet Isaiah (42:1). In other words, Jesus is the Servant of God (who serves humanity) to the point of sacrificing himself on the cross in order to conquer evil of the world.
4.  Application to life 
In today’s gospel, John identifies the mission of Jesus with that of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh mentioned by Isaiah (53:1-7). As per Isaiah, the Suffering Servant faces all suffering, rejection, humiliation and oppression silently like the sacrificial lamb that is led to the slaughter in Jewish Passover feast’s ritual.
This understanding of Jesus’ mission can have any of the following implications for our lives:
(1) Like Jesus we are called to take away/ overcome/ eliminate/ fight against sin and evil in the world. For example, parents, teachers and elders should contemplate how to fight and overcome tendencies of aggressiveness, hatred, violence, dishonesty and corruption unconsciously injected into children due to their exposure to the mass media. Our society needs to question seriously whether during ethnic and communal conflicts paying back violence with violence solves any of the problems. Jesus himself was a victim of violence who suffered violence against him like a sacrificial lamb to give us the example of suffering when we cannot overcome it in spite of all our human means or best efforts.
(2)  Like Jesus we are called to carry the burden of our own and the world’s (others’) sins. Sometimes we have to suffer because of others’ sins. For example, today, there are some parents who suffer terribly because of their children who turn out to be alcoholics, drug-addicts, delinquents, criminals, or enter into illegal or illicit marriages. Their faith in Jesus the Lamb of God can only give meaning to their mental agony.
(3) Like Jesus we become ‘sacrificial lambs’ when we make sacrifices and undergo suffering in order to fight/ eliminate evil in the world or try to purify the world from evil. Are we not inspired by the example of those who suffer a lot when they stand for justice, human rights, honesty, etc.? They are like sacrificial lambs who are fighting to take away the sins of the world.
(4) Like Jesus we are called to continue the mission of Christ, the Lamb of God, by our solidarity with the suffering and the oppressed people of the world by becoming sacrificial lambs for their cause. Whenever we support people or groups who fight for social justice, oppressive social or political systems, oppose social evils, we may be branded as traitors, betrayers, anti-nationals or unpatriotic, etc. Jesus invites us to take upon ourselves the agony of the poor, the suffering and the oppressed.
(5) We have to give witness to Christ before a world of contrary opinions that justify evil by returning good for evil and by our care for those who are not cared for.
Like John the Baptist, we are called to give witness to Christ by making sacrifices so that others may live. To take away sin or evil from society, to eradicate or to fight against evil practices and unjust structures, like Jesus we may have to undergo suffering, criticism, opposition, threats and humiliation. Whenever we make sacrifices and face opposition to liberate the world from evil, we give witness to Christ. We sometimes may feel as if we are sacrificial lambs meant for a slaughterhouse when we oppose social evils or do not compromise with it. Our silent suffering and patient humiliation like Jesus, the Suffering Servant, to take away evil is a wonderful testimony for Christ and his mission. We become counter-witness to Christ when we tolerate all the evil, corruption and injustice of the world out of fear of displeasing others or being disliked/ opposed by them. Sometimes tolerate evil to avoid sacrifices and challenges involved in tackling social evils.
We can distinguish between two types of sufferings in our lives: (1) those which come without asking (like illness, natural calamities, etc.), (2) and those which we voluntarily embrace out of love for others or for society/ the Church/ Christ’s mission. As Christ willingly and voluntarily embraced his cross, did we any time voluntarily and willingly suffer for others, out of sheer love for them? Those of us who are highly motivated and committed for the service of the poor, eradication of social evils, solidarity with the downtrodden and care of the outcasts and the rejected have to voluntarily embrace crosses of criticism, opposition, rejection, humiliation and intimidation.
Besides, we can distinguish between two types of services: (1) those which we have to render out of compulsion, like our daily work and household chores, and (2) those which we willingly and voluntarily take up for the good of those who are in need of our love. Since any service requires sacrifices, voluntary service will lead to voluntary suffering – not out of compulsion, but out of choice for a cause or for doing good for the needy. One of the reasons why we fail to get involved in any community service could be our unwillingness to make sacrifices – either of time or energies and resources.  One of the importance services parents, especially fathers, fail to render is the sacrifice of their time for guiding and directing their children in righteousness and character. In our families sometimes we expect others to serve us at our beck and call, but fail to give the best of our time, abilities and capacities for the welfare of the family. In many of us there is a tendency to escape from service to the society or the Church if there is no monitory or prestige reward.
We have to always say like John the Baptist that we really do not know God’s ways. Like him, we are called to discover who Jesus is in our life with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides us to discover God’s designs as we seek answers to these questions: Is there any meaning in life? Why there is so much suffering in the world? Can this world groaning with pain of so much violence and the poison of hatred – ethnic, linguistic, religious, racial – be redeemed?
All of us are baptized not only with water but with the Holy Spirit. This implies that we are possessed by the Spirit and are led by him to continue Jesus’ service to the poor, the sick and the suffering. If we are not sensitive to the needs of these people, how can we and others claim that we are filled with the Spirit? The Spirit makes us sensitive to a continual self-purification and empowers us to fight a good fight to purify human society from evil. We need to examine whether there were occasions when we became insensitive to the presence of the Spirit in us and became deaf to his promptings.
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we willingly undergo suffering and humiliation to take away others’ sins? Do we bring up children in modern comfort culture without teaching them the values of sacrifice, which involves giving up of our personal comforts for the welfare of others? Do we give witness to Christ by making sacrifices to liberate the world from evil and corruption? Do we compromise with evil and immoral ways of the world in order to avoid inconvenience and displeasure of people? Do we cultivate a ‘culture of silence’ when we should open our mouth to speak what is right or show our disapproval of evil ways? Do we open our hearts and minds to the promptings of the Spirit so that we become sensitive to the needs of the poor and are attuned to the cries of the suffering?
6.  A prayer
Jesus, from the day of your baptism till death, you remained faithful to your mission as the Suffering Servant of God. You served humanity to the point of sacrificing yourself like a sacrificial lamb to conquer evil of the world. We feel sorry for the times we were unwilling to face criticism, opposition and humiliation to take away evil in our society. Sometimes, instead of fighting evil we compromised with it, out of fear of rejection, criticism and opposition. Sometimes we became insensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in us and became deaf to his voice. We ask your forgiveness for these failures. Grant that we may discover more and more your presence in all people, especially among the poor, the sick, the suffering and the marginalized with the enlightenment of Holy Spirit. Amen.